1) ARMCHAIR MIDFIELDER (Lasting Images of Korea/Japan 2002)
A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good 'ol U-S-of-A . If you're looking for a viewpoint that you won't see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you've come to the right place.
This month, the Armchair Midfielder will look back at the many lasting images the USA's 2002 World Cup experience and other scenes from Korea/Japan, broken down British-style into: the Brilliant, the Bad and the Bloody Awful.
1) "The Sea of Red": Whenever the Koreans stepped onto the field, they were automatically lifted to a higher plane by the endless cheering and undying support of their intense, kimchi-lovin' fans. Even when they presented a significant psychological obstacle to our own success when we met in Daegu, it was a thing of beauty when the cameras spanned the stands behind the action to see what World Cup excitement is all about. If there’s an award for World’s Greatest Fans, the Koreans would easily take the title over the likes of Green Bay's Cheeseheads, Chicago Cubs' Bleacher Bums, or the cowbell-ringin’folks from the Sacramento Kings. Along with the fostering of their new national obsession, the team's new-found glory and their surprising -- but absolutely deserved -- run into the semi-finals proved to be one of the better stories of the World Cup.
2) "Captain America": The lingering memory that most Americans were left with as the World Cup ended for the plucky U.S. bunch was captain Claudio Reyna pacing the field in Ulsan draped in an American flag after the tough 1-0 loss to Germany. Even in disheartening defeat, something about that moment seemed perfect and poignant. The exhausted midfield general, glowing with pride, wrapping himself in his country, knowing that both he and his teammates had done their best for the folks back home. Both Claudio and the team shed their skin from France '98 and came out a winner all shiny and new, with his simple patriotic gesture seeming to simultaneously say that "We deserve to be here" and, as a country competing in the biggest global sporting event since 9/11, "We're doing okay."
3) "Bruce Arena Wins the Masters": And I thought Tiger pumped his fists a lot. What a welcome sight to see Bruce, who was equal parts stoic, terse, angry, intense, and slightly defensive throughout qualifying, briefly snap out of character and provide us with a little celebratory flavor. Actually, he put Tiger to shame. Bruce not only executed the single downward pump, but he also introduced the thrusting double-pump and, my personal favorite – the awkward, swooping side-pump. I guess three goals in the first 30 minutes against Portugal will do that to a man, although I'm sure a few people watching at home cringed as if to say “act like you’ve been there”. But spontaneous fits of joy aside, Bruce was a calm, cool, collected individual throughout our historic run. And he even survived the World Cup fashion police, keepin’ it real with the classic Nike team polo and khaki’s while avoiding missteps from shorts (like Ireland coach Mick McCarthy. Note to Mick, shorts and cleats are for practice, old friend.) to sweatpants (you would think the coach of the best team in the world could afford some nice chinos) to sweat-ringed shirts (take your pick of European coaches here).
1) "Blanco, the Boxer": Julio Cesar Chavez, he is not. With frustration setting in after being down 2-0 to those stinking Americans, 'ol "White Shoes" was a split-second away from cheap-shotting Pablo Mastroeni, our peace-loving defensive midfielder. With Bob Marley-Mastroeni lying harmlessly on the ground after a fair tackle, the Mexican veteran cocked his arm back as if he wanted nothing more in the world than to lay him out with a cowardly right cross. Of course, not much later in the match, the normally even-tempered Rafael Marquez was reduced to putting a boot in Cobi Jones' back and knocking him on the side of the head with his large cranium. What do the Mexican players have against dreadlocks, anyway?
2) "Fantastic Sam's, Anyone?": As Jay Leno quipped on the team's appearance on "The Tonight Show", there must've been some cheap barber shops in Korea and Japan. How else would you explain some of the 'do's running around the field? While Beckham and Ljunberg's fauxhawks were oh-so-fashionable, our boy Clint and German midfielder Christian Ziege shared the "Good Idea, Bad Execution" Award with their ill-advised hatchet jobs. And then just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Ronaldo went out and got a hilarious half-moon haircut that even made Ronaldinho's geri-curl style look good. Just let your soul glow, young Ronaldinho.
THE BLOODY AWFUL:
1) "Give Him the Oscar": Rivaldo's ridiculous flop to the ground, clutching his face and writhing in pain after being struck in the thigh with the ball while lazily waiting at the corner flag will go down in
history as one of the most pathetic moments of the World Cup ... ever. I know I wasn't the only one who jumped off the couch/bar stool to taunt the otherwise gifted forward after he collapsed like Greg Norman on the final 18. What a shame it was to have that memory attached to the Brazil team, especially with the almost flawless effort they produced in winning their fifth world title.
2) "Instant Replay, Anyone?": Another bitter aftertaste of the World Cup was the officiating. What card-carrying Sam's Army member didn't print out the picture showing Michael Frings fisting the ball on the goal line? And what Spanish newspaper didn't carry a huge photo of what should have been the game-winning cross sitting perfectly on the endline before being struck? And I know the offside call is one of the most difficult ones in all of sport, but Italy, you got hosed. As for Turkey? Unlucky. That foul was definitely committed outside the box. No worries, though, you made it to the semi’s, anyway. And that’s what we have to take away from this -- for better or for worse, those questionable calls contributed to one of the most surprising, refreshing and enjoyable World Cups in recent memory. Think about it: traditional powerhouses Brazil and Germany in the final, and Cinderella sides Turkey and Korea in the Third Place game. Play on, men.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Lasting Images of Korea/Japan 2002)
2) Word Association (w/ WNT midfielder Lorrie Fair)
3) Reyna Reminisces (w/ MNT midfielder Claudio Reyna)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ WNT/U-21 WNT defender Cat Reddick)
5) The Long Road Back (w/ U-21 WNT defender Nandi Pryce)
6) Superstar!! (w/ MNT defender Tony Sanneh)
7) Mark That Calendar (U.S. WNT vs. Norway -- July 21, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (NEW World Cup trivia)
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